DURHAM — Pete Shankle has 501 wins as a high school baseball coach, but he doesn’t remember many of them very well.
The losses – that’s different.
"I can tell you about every one of the losses," Shankle said in a recent interview. "I don’t think you’ll meet a more competitive person than I am. Losses stick with me for a long time."
Shankle, in his third year at still-new Voyager Academy, coached 19 years at Southern Durham High School, where his teams won 14 conference championships and twice made it to the state championship series.
What does Shankle remember? The last loss.
Southern won Game 1 and was up 4-0 in the final inning of Game 2 in the best-of-three state championship series, only to see the game slip away. In Game 3, the Spartans fought back from an early 9-3 deficit to tie it up, but threw the game away on a misplayed double-play ball.
"When we went into the last inning, they were already bringing out the trophies and player awards. Everyone thought it was over," he recalls. "I wasn’t the same for a long time after that one. That one still bothers my heart."
Shankle announced his retirement as Southern’s baseball coach immediately after that loss. He stayed a few more years as athletic director, then took a baseball coaching job at Northern Durham.
"I found I missed the coaching too much," he said.
Now, when many would be looking at retirement, Shankle has found a new challenge in leading Voyager’s baseball team.
"The kids keep me young," he said.
"Young" is the byword at Voyager. The Vikings had no juniors or seniors on last year’s roster, and still have no members of the class of 2013 this season.
That didn’t stop Voyager from reaching last year’s state championship series in the school’s first year playing in the N.C. High School Athletics Association – the youngest team to play for an NCHSAA championship in any sport.
The Vikings finished fourth in the combined 1A-2A Carolina 12 Conference behind three 2A schools and then went on to face South Stanley in the state finals, eventually finishing 20-8 overall.
"Last year was so gratifying and so special," Shankle said. "Last year we only had 11 players, and during the playoffs I was the stranger in town. Every team we’d face had a scouting report on us, and none of the other coaches, no one, would tell me anything."
Everyone knows about Voyager now.
"We didn’t surprise anyone (at Southern) in 2001. We were averaging 20 wins a year, and we were supposed to be there," Shankle said. "We’re not going to surprise anyone this year. They know who we are and now we have the bull’s-eye on our back."
Shankle said his players worked harder in the off-season than any previous group he could remember, playing special attention to strength and speed drills.
"Do we expect to win the conference championship? Yeah, we do. Make it to the state playoffs? Yeah, we expect that. Arrogant? Maybe it is. But we’re faster and stronger than we were last year," Shankle said.
"We may not be better than every team will play, but I promise you no one will out-work us."